Perceived and Posted by Jerry Schwartz
Give much? Give at all? Not as much as you should? Or could? Chances are, if you are reading this, you are not. Why not?
It’s not. It’s not always better to give than receive. Certainly, the feeling changes with the table’s side you’re on. Definitely, better for both sides than doing nothing.
Do reasons and feelings matter, anyway? From a purely financial standpoint, there are the tax break for the giver and a revenue gain for the givee. Products or services are not exchanged. There’s no transaction for the transfer, only a temporary thought to treasure for a not too tangible, often timely, sometimes transparent tactic.
Whether emotional, religious or business, the reason is unimportant, really. Philanthropy is necessary. Really! We’re not dealing with judgment day, here. But if that works, then write that check. From my standpoint, the reason to give is because you can. Some people are, well, less fortunate, unfortunately. For many reasons, they will never see a fortune. Speaking of fortunes, Fortune magazine figured that Bill Gates’ new found filanthropy was forged to fend anti-trust fears Microsoft had faced in the U.S. and Europe. So what?
I grew up in the 1960’s. After all those college protest marches for injustices, we settled down to making money. A Republican was a 1960’s liberal who is successful in business. Amazingly, 50 years ago, nobody did anything philanthropic unless they were wealthy, like Mellons and Carnegies. Everyone else barely survived the Great Depression. It took their children to make a difference, not just make a living. Now in our 40s, 50s and 60s, we are in careers where we can effect great change. And we do. You see it on energy drinks and granola bags, sure, but you also see more mainstream philanthropy, too. Revlon sponsors runs for cancer. Panera Cares let’s you donate bread ($) instead of buying it. And while the entertainment industry has long donated time and talent, “We Are the World” and, separately, the Live Aid Concert, both in 1985, both raising money for Africa, clearly started a phenomenon.
Recently, I saw the movie “Robin Hood,” about the fabled Sherwood Forest socialist who famously stole from the rich to give to the poor. What a great name for a 501(c)(3), the Robin Hood Foundation! You’ve got to love the unabashedly honest double entendre. The organization was founded in 1988 by hedge fund billionaire Paul Tudor Jones. This year’s fund-raising gala generated $88 million and highlighted the actor Michael Douglas of the movie “Wall Street.” I want to hire the publicist who timed the movie sequel’s publicity with this event and the financial reform bill.
New York’s a helluva town. Probably no other city boasts philanthropy as an entire industry rather than an act of conscience. You know it’s an industry because it has its own vendors. Every night there are dozens of fund raisers. The hotel, catering, flower, limo and public relations businesses float on this island of goodwill. Honoring leaders, there’s $2 million for Lincoln Center, $2 million for the Legal Aid Society, $600,000 for Catholic Big Sisters. The 13th annual Women & Science Luncheon recently attracted 400 and raised $1 million and it all started with some lunching ladies handwriting notes and dialing friends. Today, technology sells tickets and raises money. EBay’s PayPal friends even the smallest non-profits. Texting generated $3 million for the Red Cross Haiti quake effort in the first 31 hours, up from Katrina’s $400,000 four years earlier.
Staggering. Corporations can deduct donations of up to 10% of their pre-tax net income. The average actual amount is less than half a percent. Yes, less than .05%. No, this is not about a redistribution of wealth. Nor, the Lord’s work. Just incrementally more would make a huge difference. Loews Corp. heiress Laurie Tisch, 59, says she’s been “doing this [philanthropy] since third grade.” She never thought otherwise.
Singer Alicia Keys, 29, is co-founder of Keep a Child Alive, which provides AIDS and HIV medicine. She recently suggested we put the money used to bail out Wall Street into eliminating extreme poverty. U2 lead Bono says, “Fame is a currency. You must use it well.” Sports greats use fame very well. All professional teams and leagues have formal projects and programs. Their individual and team donations, activities and other support are noteworthy for a remarkable lack of publicity. Famous players, from Jeter to Beckham to Woods, unfamously have foundations. So do actors, directors, TV stars and authors. Clearly, the measure of a man is what he does when no one’s looking. An anonymous quote?
Problem with growing up in the 1960’s was “Corporate Social Responsibility.” After World War II ended, entities emptied endless effluents and excrement into the environment. That, and sunbathing with baby oil and reflectors, probably knocked 10 years off boomer lives. The real problem, for public relations, anyway, was the buzzword. Corporate Social Responsibility was over-reaching and under-performing, though well-meaning. Its evolution from that period of revolution created few solutions and many delusions. Now, the term is trite, if not archaic. Cause marketing is, too, because. . . .
We needed a new timely buzzword and that is “strategic philanthropy.” It means giving for a reason. Strategically, certainly not anonymously. Not altruistically. Not religiously. Nor even generously. Strategic philanthropy is giving for a purpose, an ulterior motive, an expectation of a higher return and, again, not the Lord’s work. We’ve actually analyzed, evaluated and recommended programs for clients seeking to grow businesses or repair images using strategic philanthropy. Certain celebrities give for similar reasons. And that’s okay.
Years ago, we thought it was simply good to give back and we did. Bling bags and boxes, pretty pointy pins, sticky smiley stickers and little lapel labels – seemly symbols of selflessness seriously but silently shown. Recently, someone dear to me said, “Nah, you’re doing it for business reasons.” Business is a good reason, not drug money nor blood money. Giving back because you have a lot is a worthy reason. No need to feel guilty. Can’t possibly spend it all, even if you try to die poor (good book title).
Bill Clinton is a “global philanthropist.” Everyone else is mostly local, like the chapters we join, run, write or live. Being on boards, going to galas, reaping raffles, purchasing program pages, co-opting committees are how we make friends and influence others. People like to play with people like themselves, who give themselves and of themselves. And there are many of us -- bankers, brokers, barristers and businessmen bartering benevolence for bucks. At least we’re giving. Quomodo Latine hoc diciture?
Pro bono’s a great concept, a great Latin term only great lawyers could create. The best firms require a minimum hours per partner per year. The best of the best do it anyway. We like “low bono” – doing good work at break-even prices. We are not a non-profit. Years of pro, low, slow and no bono and the result was less than sunny. In frustration, strategically and creatively, we created PRoBono to combine needs, wants and requests. With PRoBono, we formalized the act of giving by taking on selected small non-profits – that desperately need help – at minimal cost. A formula keeps programs and expenses under control. Beneficiaries have included Angel Flight and New York Scores.
Beyond this, our philanthropy is huge, if I can inspire, for a firm our size. Hundreds of kids get toys yearly through our collective collecting. Hundreds of trees have been planted in Israel through our many donations honoring births, deaths and mitzvahs of friends and family. We reimburse staff attending selected local cultural events, including three times the suggested donation for lunchtime concerts at a neighborhood church. With full agency support and participation, staff have staffed soup kitchens, built school bookcases and raised money for animals of Katrina (a pet project). And we give extra days off for eleemosynary work. Academically, we have instituted internships with interested institutions, allied with alumni activities, and two of us have taught, too.
I love the word eleemosynary. Better than parsimonious.